Google barge revealed to be marketing showroom

The mysterious barge docked in San Francisco Bay that has been fuelling intense speculation the past week will serve as a luxury showroom and event venue for Google products, a local television station has revealed.

Shipping-container structure in San Francisco Bay includes 3 floors of showrooms, party deck

The shipping containers housed on a barge docked in San Francisco, which are currently partly obscured by a tarp, will serve as elaborate showrooms for Google products, a local TV station has learned from sources. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

The mysterious barge docked in San Francisco Bay that has been fuelling intense speculation the past week will serve as a luxury showroom for Google products and a floating, modular venue for the company's private events, a local television station has revealed.

One of the Google products that will be displayed in the company's new floating marketing space will be Google Glass, which allows users to access the internet and call up a variety of information about what they're seeing around them. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

CBS affiliate KPIX 5 reported Friday that several sources confirmed that the large structure built out of shipping containers that sits on top of the barge will be used to market Google Glass, the much-hyped augmented reality headgear Google unveiled this year, and other products and to host invitation-only events and parties for clients.

The barge has been moored at Treasure Island, a former military base in San Francisco Bay, and was first noticed by media around September. A similar barge is docked on the other side of the country in Portland Harbour in Portland, Maine.

Some observers had speculated that the barges would be used as floating data centres that would use ocean water to cool the company's servers, pointing out that Google had received a patent for such a project in 2009.

Project thought up at Google[x]

Sources familiar with the project told KPIX Google's floating showroom has been a year in the making and was thought up at Google[x], the tech giant's secret ideas lab located near its corporate headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. 

A second barge almost identical to the one in San Francisco, is docked in Portland, Maine. A coast guard spokesman told the Portland Press Herald newspaper that work on the barge will begin after its San Francisco counterpart is complete. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald/Associated Press)

The Google[x] facility is run by company co-founder Sergey Brin and is where engineers, programmers and other company employees work on a list of 100 dream projects that Google hopes to make a reality. It's where slightly more far-out technologies are tested, such as driverless cars, Google Glass or the Project Loon balloons that Google launched into the stratosphere earlier this year as a way of connecting remote areas to the internet.

KPIX reported that a source who has been aboard the barge said the first three floors are designed to be impressive showrooms "that can be outfitted with chrome features and floor lighting." 

"There is an upper party deck meant to feature bars, lanais and other comforts so Google can fete its upscale customers," the station said.

The source told KPIX that the structure is constructed of interchangeable 12-metre high shipping containers that can be assembled and disassembled and transported by road, rail or ship anywhere in the world. 

Inspected by coast guard

The launch of the floating showroom has reportedly been delayed because the U.S. Coast Guard had to inspect it to ensure it had the necessary safety features required of a floating vessel and complied with marine environmental protection laws.

The local coast guard confirmed Thursday that it had inspected the vessel but would not give any further details.

Reporters first spotted the west coast barge during the September opening of a new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, but speculation about who owned it and what it was for heated up in recent weeks. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

"Regardless of the company or entity involved, the coast guard has an obligation to protect sensitive proprietary information, as a company's competitive posture and business interests depend on it," it said in a statement.

Google has so far refused to comment or even acknowledge the vessels belong to the company.

Reporters trying to trace the origin of the barges have found there are four registered in total to a Delaware corporation called By and Large LLC, an apparent nod to the fictitious company Buy and Large from the animation film WALL-E.

The barges have been registered under the names BAL0001, BAL0010, BAL0011 and BAL0100, which seem to incorporate binary code for the numbers 1,2,3,4. Barge BAL0011 is the one in Portland; BAL0010 is the one housing the showroom structure in San Francisco; BAL0001 is also docked at Treasure Island but doesn't seem to have a structure built on it; and BAL0100 is so far unaccounted for.


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